My alma mater, SUNY Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, is honoring the advocates who made the Architect Barbie possible. Back in 2007, University of Michigan Professor, Despina Stratigakos, curated the exhibition of student and faculty design prototypes for the doll as a means of critiquing stereotypes within the design field. Stratigakos, a feminist scholar and long time advocate for the increase in the representation of women in design, lobbied Mattel to create the doll in 2010, along with Kelly Hayes McAlonie and others. The doll debuted at the AIA conference in New Orleans last year and was Mattel’s 2011 Career of the Year (try telling that to the boys over at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce who say that architecture is the worst field to be in right now). Anyway, quite the accomplishment although one might argue that even this representation of females is a step in the wrong direction.
The other day I read about some enraged parents that are fighting LEGOs gender-based marketing of a LEGO line targeting girls. These are admittedly different circumstances. For one, consider that LEGO has long been a unisex one-liner in contrast with Barbie which has a longer history in gender marketing.
Sidenote: Word to the wise. If you’re writing an essay for advanced degree programs in design fields, leave out the “I want to be an architect because I used to play with LEGOs…” line. It’s cliche. Originality and succinct, poignant points about your goals with the institution and experience look much better to admissions boards who go through a thousand similar (often verbose) essays.
Secondly, LEGO is quite brazen about how they represent girl oriented figures, both in their appearance and occupation. The new line would showcase slender, small waist figures with a slew of domestic accessories; a far cry from the stocky traditional LEGO figures we have all grown to tolerate. SPARK and Powered by Girl, organizations opposed to the line of LEGOs, made this video showcasing young people, like Riley Maida, voicing their disinterest in the cornering of their gender into set market prejudices. She shares that her favorite thing about LEGOs is “You can do whatever you want [with them].”
LEGO groups ploy to increase marketability to young girls only reinforces negative gender stereotypes that have long been proliferated through every crevasse of modern and ancient society. We don’t need another Polly Pocket. We do need more attempts at showcasing the diversity of occupational opportunities that can await a young girl in this country; and in light of social media, around the world; especially in the field of Architecture in which 83% is still male dominated.
This topic is most resonant today given the recent passing of Norma Merrick Sklarek, the first African American female to become a licensed architect. Let us also not forget Buffalo-based Louise Blanchard Bethune who became the first woman admitted into the American Institute of Architects in 1889. And there are countless other firsts, but let the firsts not lay stagnant in a whispering desire to shake the foundations of a male dominated society. At the risk of sounding like an uber-feminist, glass ceilings were meant to be broken.
But I digress so let’s go back to SUNY Buffalo where Masters students have taken to campus to photograph Architect Barbie in action and pay tribute to the front runners that made her an attainable dream. They are still a little pale from my perspective and still not representative of the plus-sized girls, but in any case we salute you, Architect Barbie. May your Mayline always be straight and may your CAD file be crashproof.